Early Millennium RC 34 Reflections on Youth Sociology. Presented at XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, RC 34 Presidential session 16. July 2018, Toronto

Abstract: This paper will share and analyse, within the framework of youth sociology and RC 34, some thoughts, observations and reflections using pictures from RC 34 meetings and conferences, materials from IBYR, the Official Online Newsletter of the RC 34 (1998–2002), and RC 34 board documents (2002–2006), focusing on working towards the goal of a global network of youth researchers.

Keywords: youth sociology, RC 34

 I would like to show in my paper that something valuable occurred in the early millennium in youth sociology and youth research. The reason for approaching youth sociology from the history of Research Committee (RC) 34 between two centuries is because of an ongoing project of the history of RC 34, which started over 20 years ago at the end of the 1990s. My personal reflections come from my years as the IBYR editor from 1998 to 2002 and the 2002–2006 RC 34 presidency from Brisbane WC 2002 to Durban WC 2006. My argument is that the history of RC 34 has an important role in the development of international global youth sociology and youth research, making inroads into the growing field of multi-disciplinary, basic and applied, theoretical and empirical, and multi-method youth research, and in building up appropriate networks globally around issues of common interest of youth and young people. I try to show that the RC 34 activities of the early millennium have relevance even to youth sociology of today in helping sustain a theoretically and methodologically more cohesive, innovative and global RC of sociology of youth.           

My sources consist of documents and my own observations in the RC 34. Readers will find more information from the International online Bulletin, IBYR (http://www.rc34youth.org/), which has also been a good reference to my presentation.

My focus is particularly on the RC 34 story. I will present the growing RC 34 narrative in the framework of the early presidents who, with their executive boards, provided the scientific, historical, social and even political context for the RC of youth sociology and sociology of youth.

During recent years, RC 34 has lost many of the pioneers and founders of the committee. I argue that their roles were very significant to RC 34’s inevitable upward path: the move towards globalization of youth sociology and youth research.

 The first president of RC 34 was elected 40 years ago in 1978 during the ISA World Congress, which was held in Uppsala, Sweden. Now, RC 34 has been fortunate to have 10 dedicated presidents who have made our research committee one of the most active and global ones of the ISA. However, the first seven presidents came from Europe, and the first non-European president was the former VP from Asia. Ngan Pun NGAI was elected in Durban in 2006, and the former IBYR editor James Côté from Northern America was elected in the 2010 Gothenburg ISA WC. Our current president, Ani Wieranga from Australia, was elected in the 2014 ISA WC in Youkohama. All continents are not yet represented, but perhaps the election of the next president will correct this situation.

European RC 34 Presidents

The first president was Romanian Ovidiu Badina who led the position from 1978 to 1982. His presidency was during the time of the communist regime when communist states controlled East European youth research. The establishment of youth studies as a legitimate academic discipline in communist East and Central Europe in the 1960s and 70s came with the rising political concern of young people. First in the German Democratic Republic in 1966, then in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Romania, youth research institutes were founded, and research centres were established, at the Academies of Sciences and major universities. The studies, which were carried out by youth institutes, were among the best examples of empirical research in the Eastern part of Europe during the communist regimes, while most other fields of sociology were theoretical, strongly influenced by the official Marxist ideology. Youth researchers in the Soviet Union gathered copious amounts of empirical and comparative data regarding attitudes and values of young people and their future expectations. In the 1980s, international cooperation began between the East and West. According to Siyka Kovacheva (Helve, Leccardi, and Kovacheva 2005), this communication flourished with different themes and theoretical perspectives, and even different methodologies. Up to this point, youth research in the East almost entirely consisted of large-scale quantitative surveys, whereas small-scale qualitative case studies dominated sociological youth research in the West. In the 80s, however, Eastern European state control began implementing restrictions on youth research. Individual researchers and whole institutes were punished for, and banned from, participation in international research projects or in conferences and seminars abroad. (Helve, Leccardi, and Kovacheva 2005.)

It is understandable that during this time youth researchers had very few connections to Western colleagues, and the international conferences and seminars they could participate in were mostly organized in Eastern Europe. Eastern colleagues had difficulties even attending the ISA World Congresses. Badina experienced the government’s tight control of the state; his major objective as the president was to lower the obstacles of the Cold War and build cooperation between the youth sociologists from the Western countries and Eastern Europe and the Third World. RC 34 provided an opportunity for this. Badina was very active in establishing and developing several institutions in both Romania and abroad; however, Romania was under Chaushesku’s regime, which was very oppressive towards Badina and his research colleagues.

As the first president, Badina developed youth research as an interdisciplinary field to ensure cooperation between pedagogy, psychology, law, sociology and other social sciences, as well as between research, policy and practice. This is still the policy of RC 34.

Let me elaborate on my experiences from that time. I visited the Romanian Youth Research Institute in Bukarest in 1983 when Fred Mahler was the deputy director. This institute had been founded in 1968 by Badina, who acted as director until 1974. Our discussions revolved around the theory of youth sociology and values of young people. The Romanian colleagues had developed the field of youth sociology, which they called Juventology. I also remember when Fred Mahler was invited to be the keynote speaker in the first Nordic youth research conference (NYRIS) that was held in 1987 in Oslo, Norway. He didn´t allow enough time to obtain a visa, so his keynote, which was originally part of the opening ceremony, had to be moved to the end of the conference two days later.  

The second president, Peter-Emil Mitev, who served from 1982 to 1986, was elected at the Xth World Congress of ISA in Mexico. During his presidency, RC 34 expanded its membership and accepted new statutes which remain the bases for the work of RC 34. For example, the Executive Board developed the vice president structure we still use today, which consists of six VPs from West Europe, East Europe, USSR, North America, Asia and Africa. This model was used as an example for other ISA RCs. RC 34 also started to publish the International Bulletin of Youth Research (IBYR), a newsletter of the Committee, during this time, which was a major source of information regarding RC 34. As an editor of the print version of IBYR, Slovak Ladislav Macháček, who was born in communist Czechoslovakia, served RC 34 for a long time. Many of us remember him from the 1980s onwards as a very active member of the RC 34, bringing the group with a Central European perspective. IBYR was a significant publication for disseminating research information to youth researchers from the East and West.

During this period, R C34 also organized two international conferences: one in Bulgaria and another in India. The theme of the Bulgarian 1982 conference was Social Indicators in Comparative Youth Research and the 1985 conference was titled Youth in the 80s: Participation, Development, Peace. The Indian conference was organized by the Asian VP and professor J. Simhadri and it was also held in 1985, the International Youth Year.

One of the most important initiatives during Peter Mitev´s Presidency was the establishment of the International Youth Research Library in 1986 in Varna, Bulgaria. Members of RC 34 sent copies of their publications and analyses of the data sets to Varna library. This library was of great importance for researchers from Eastern Europe who had no access to world libraries (reference Siyka Kovatcheva, more in IBYR). Books related to the conference papers presented at the sessions of RC34 were also published during Mitev’s Presidency. For example, he edited Sociology of Youth. Mexico ’82 (Sofia: People’s Youth Press, 1983). Other books published during this time include Social Indicators in Comparative Youth Research, which was edited by Velev, I. (Sofia: People’s Youth Press, 1985), Youth and Labour (Shubkin, V. Ed., Sofia: People’s Youth Press, 1985) and Youth and Leisure (Velev, I., Sofia: People’s Youth Press, 1985), all of which resulted from comparative youth studies. RC 34 also initiated two research projects under the coordination of the next president, Jürgen Hartman (with Peter Grootings). Our colleague Siyka Kovatcheva has written more about the time of Badina and his follower Bulgarian Mitev (IBYR, December 1999).

The third president, a Swede named Jürgen Hartmann, led the group from 1986 to 1990 and was the treasurer of RC 34 during Mitev’s presidency. Jürgen continued to strengthen cooperation between Western and Eastern European youth researchers. The social change after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 affected youth studies in many ways. For instance, young people lost their privileged position in the East. New research topics became more similar to those being conducted by Western youth, such as the prolongation of the youth and the loss of the clear age boundaries and the increasing differentiation and individualisation of young people. Youth research institutes closed and old research institutions had to look for new sources of funding. During Jürgen’s presidency, RC 34 sponsored the comparative project known as European Youth and New Technologies (1987–1990), which was run by the European Coordination Centre for Research and Documentation in the Social Sciences in Vienna. This project was incredibly valuable in Eastern Europe at the time since consumer interest in IT was still limited. During Hartmann’s presidency, cooperation with Chinese youth researchers began, which eventually led to the first RC 34 conference in Shanghai, China in 1993 known as Asian Modernization and Youth. This is also the period that vice presidents started to organize regional conferences between World Congresses. Chinese youth researchers joined RC 34 and the committee began to grow and represent global youth research network. Jürgen Hartmann built close relationships with policy makers in the UN, Unesco, European Union and Nordic Council of Ministers. After his presidency, Jürgen remained very active on the ISA Finance Committee of Executive Committee (from 1990–1998) before joining the RC 34 Advisory Board.

The fourth president was Sibylle Hübner-Funk, who came from Deutsches Jugendinstitut, the German Youth Institute in Munich, and presided over the group from 1990 to 1994. She was one of the founders of RC 34 in 1974 in the previous Toronto WC and was then elected as the vice president of Western Europe from 1986 (New Delhi WC) before becoming president in 1990 (Madrid WC). In the 1990s, youth researchers analysed the increasing individualization and differentiation among young people. The focus of the social construction of youth was placed on the specific problems of various youth groups, including the young homeless, the young unemployed, the young drug addicts, etc. These problems of youth were connected to the issues of youth policies, and this strengthened cooperation within youth research. European RC 34 Board Members, with the help of representatives of the EU and the Council of Europe, created the Circle for Youth Research Cooperation in Europe (CYRCE). RC 34 played an important role in CYRCE because Past-President Hartmann and Sibylle Hübner-Funk and the following Presidents, Ola Stafseng and Lynne Chisholm, helped to co-found the organization. This network was active for ten years and contributed two volumes to European Yearbook on Youth Policy and Research in both 1995 and 1999. This work demonstrates how efficient the synergy and cooperation between researchers, youth workers and politicians in the youth field was in the 1990s.

The fifth president (1994–1998) was Ola Stafseng from Norway. He further developed the institutional cooperation of RC 34 with UN Headquarters, UNESCO and the Council of Europe with respect to their regional and sub-regional actions. The globalization created in youth sociology called for new theoretical frameworks; for example, many European immigrant young people had cultural, social and religious backgrounds that differed from those of the majority, and therefore, they experi­enced problems in becoming part of the late modern youth individualization.

In youth sociology, individualizing theories were developed with life-course and identity theories, focusing on the transitions to adulthood at different levels of life, including longitudinal processes (see Walter R. Heinz and Victor W. Marshall, eds. Social Dynamics of the Life Course: Transitions, Institutions, and Interrelations, Aldine de Gruyter, 2003). The individualization theory developed by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck (Beck 1986, 1992) focuses on people’s lives, which were analysed as an individual project with increased ‘risks.’ In youth studies, scholars examined the ways in which young people develop their own ‘trajectories’ (see European Group for Integrated Social Research, 2001; Chisholm and Hurrelmann 1995; Jones and Wallace 1992; Helve and Bynner 2007).

During his presidency (1994–1998), Ola Stafseng not only consolidated a European network of youth research but also expanded youth research relationships throughout the world. At the European level, Ola Stafseng laid the foundations for the current Pool of European Youth Researchers (PEYR).

The sixth president and second female president (1998–2002) was British native, Lynne Chisholm. Most of us remember her brilliant work in RC 34. During Lynne’s presidency, RC 34 formulated a language policy, allowing English, French and Spanish to become the recognised languages of our committee. In 2001, RC 34 professionally sponsored a master’s course in Youth Research and Policy, which was established at the University of Lleida with the support of the Catalonian General Secretariat. Students from Latin America and Spain registered in this course. As the RC 34 president, Lynne sat on the Scientific Council of the course degree, and Board and Committee members contributed regularly to the course and were also involved in Young Youth Researchers Training Seminars, which were organized in the European Youth Centre, Budapest in cooperation with the Council of Europe Youth Directorate. The first summer school seminar, called On Youth Policy and Research, was organized by Afracan VP, David Everatt, in Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa and sponsored by the Royal Dutch Embassy. During Lynne´s presidency, many international conferences were organized in different continents. Also during this time was the Board’s appointment of an Advisory Board that conformed with the provisions in the statutes of RC 34. High-standing and outstanding scholars in the field of international youth studies who had shown longstanding commitment to the committee were invited to join this group. This has been a worthwhile innovation. The format of the RC 34 Newsletter, IBYR (International Bulletin of Youth Research), was changed into a digital website format at this time as well. The site was managed through the Nordic Youth Research Information NYRI server and linked with web services on youth research worldwide.

Various meetings were also organized during the presidency of Lynne Chisholm. During her time, cooperation between European and Latin American youth research increased. RC 34 started to organize the Young Youth Researchers Training Seminars in the European Youth Centre in Budapest in cooperation with the Council of Europe Youth Directorate. RC 34 cooperated actively with the 7th Nordic Youth Research Conference (NYRIS7) in 2000 in Helsinki, Finland, as well as with the Finnish Youth Research Society, and many regional RC 34 conferences and seminars were organized in Europe and in Asia.

I was elected as the seventh president of RC 34 (2002–2006) at the ISA XV World Congress in Brisbane. This was during a period of global economic restructuring associated with demographic shifts in the age structure of populations in which governments all around the globe were facing enormous challenges. In the southern hemisphere, the invasion of the capitalist economy put pressure on the older child and youth populations. In the northern hemisphere, there was an associated pauperization of youth as their families’ economic well-being became worse and their needs were pitted against those of the increasing elderly populations (cited Tyyskä 2005; see also Tienda and Wilson 2002; Allatt 2001; Rahman 2001). These realities also resulted in youth sociology’s interest in research regarding citizenship rights of children and young people (Bynner, Chisholm, and Furlung 1997; Giroux 2003; Earls and Carlson 2002; Helve and Wallace 2001; Tyyskä 1998; Jones and Wallace 1992).

The goal of European presidents has been to advance youth research throughout the world. The structure of having seven regional vice presidents supported and strengthened the development of youth research in cooperation with national youth research associations and facilitated greater connections with other ISA Research Committees like RC 53 on the Sociology of Childhood with whom we first organized a joint session in Durban WC. We collaborated between national associations with joint conferences and built youth research networks with different national and international youth research associations. This provided valuable opportunities for exchanging ideas and collaborating within and across the boundaries of sub-specialisations, theories, methodological approaches and national and regional experiences. To me, it was easy to continue the well-aligned missions of former presidents and boards. The Youth Training course was organized in Moscow in September 2002. RC 34 co-organized the youth conference, Global Priorities for Youth, with the United Nation in Helsinki in October 2002. The youth sociologists´ expertise was also widely used in many other UN and EU contexts and in other big conferences on the topics of youth, youth policy and youth work (e.g., as paper presenters and discussants). Furthermore, RC 34 regional conferences were widely organized by vice presidents, and various RC 34 members contributed as authors to RC 34 books, including Contemporary Youth Research: Local Expressions and Global Connections (edited by Helena Helve and Gunilla Holm, published by Ashgate, 2005).Pam Nilan and Carles Feixa were editors of Global Youth? Hybrid identities, plural worlds, 2006 (Routledge: England, USA and Canada), and Carmen Leccardi (with Elisabetta Ruspini) edited the book, A New Youth? Young People, Generations and Family Life (2005, Ashgate: England and USA). All these books resulted from RC 34 conferences.Collaboration with Nordic Journal of Youth Research (YOUNG) was also developed.

The IBYR website was also improved at this time: when Jim Côté became the editor, he established a mailing list for RC 34 members to communicate with each other. The IBYR now enjoys a worldwide readership. During this time, RC 34 became one of the biggest research committees in ISA, thus heightening the profile of youth sociology within the mainstream agenda of sociology. Membership included 130 paid members from 43 countries, all of whom attended the conference in Durban where RC 34 had a programme of 140 accepted papers. A great number of presentations were made by academics of different levels of seniority and experience from around the world.

Youth research in these decades has been characterised by an examination of different categories of youth, such as youth from different racial, class, gender or sexuality backgrounds, and how experiences and understandings of different youth worlds are shaped by these factors. Youth researchers have drawn on cultural studies, feminisms, post-structuralisms, post-modernism, critical race theories and queer theories, among other methodologies, when describing and interpreting these various youth worlds. Mirroring the field of sociology more generally, recent youth research has been linked to globalization, citizenship, network societies and increasing inequalities among youth in neo-liberal and late capitalist contexts.

The following are examples of RC 34 conference titles from the year 2005 to demonstrate the timeliness of their themes during the early millennium: the Landscapes of Youth conference was the 9th Nordic Youth Research Information Symposium (NYRIS 9) held in Stockholm, Sweden; Problems and Representations of Deviance among Young Immigrants (Problemi e rappresentazioni della devianza tra i giovani immigrati) was organized in Torino, Italy; The Social Context of Gangs and Troublesome Youth Groups in Multi-Ethnic Europe was organized in Spain;a conference titled Youth: An Incertain Future? Being Youth in the New Century: An International Standpoint” was held in Salerno, Italy; a “Childhoods” conferencewas organized in Oslo; Youth and Leisure and Youth and ICT conferenceswere organized by the Expert Group on Youth Development Indicators of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York; and finally, Opportunities and Challenges of Youth in New Era, the 7th Asian youth conference, was held in Macao.

 In 2003, RC 34 decided to sponsor a young researcher award for best article. To facilitate the competitive process, a working committee was established: Jürgen Hartman acted as the chair and other members included Lynne Chisholm, Jim Côté and Helena Helve.Although only 10 articles were submitted, we were surprised at the students’ high level of writing and research for this first competition. Dennis Zuev of Krasnoyarsk State University won the award with his paper, “Youth Travel Ideology in Russia.” This award was the first worldwide competition for junior scholars engaged in youth research. Zuev was then invited to participate in the XVI World Congress of Sociology in Durban. He presented his paper during RC 34’s presidential session. His conference fees and a travel grant were paid by RC 34.

The role of the ISA RC 34 has contrib­uted to a cultural environment in which we have to define new strategies and methods for global youth research cooperation.

Methodologically, qualitative techniques have become more popular, along with studies that combine qualitative and quantitative approaches (see Helve 2005). Postmodernism has also had an impact as a driving force behind many of the studies, promoting new areas of research that are supplanting other critical perspectives (Côté 2005.)

The International Sociological Association, Sociology of Youth Research Committee (RC34), might be able to make inroads into the growing field of multi-disciplinary, basic and applied, theoretical and empirical and multi-method youth research, thus building up globally appropriate networks around issues of common interest.

I conclude that the decisions and work of early millennium RC 34 presidents and board members have been important for the development of the current youth sociology. Children and young people are now facing new threats related to the environment, social media, virtual reality, diseases, drugs, human rights, violations, inequality, crime, wars and terrorism. These are some of the reasons that we have brought youth researchers, politicians and youth workers together to discuss not only the challenges facing young people today, but also (or so I hope) the opportunities that are open to young people in today’s world. There is a need for multilateral action where youth researchers should be involved. We as youth researchers need cooperation with governments, organizations and civil society so that we can all work together in order to build citizenship rights, gender equality and social security for children and youth. We as a research committee of the sociology of youth cannot believe that this work is only a matter of politics.in front of actions regarding research on children and young people from the comparative and longitudinal perspectives. We should obtain information and research on new issues, such as the impact of social media, internet, online-chatting, video games and virtual life on children and young people. We as a RC of youth researchers can present proposals for the protection of children and young people in different parts of the world.